Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Hard Facts: The Telecommuter’s LIfe

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“According to a new survey of people who currently telecommute, 40% of employees would be willing to take a pay cut in order to [continue] to work out of their home. Of this 40%, 74% would be willing to give up between 2 and 5% of their salary and 20% would take a 10% cut.” (“Study: Employees Are Willing to Take Pay Cuts and Give Up Their Favorite TV Show to Work From Home,”  TheGrindstone.com, 7/19/2011)

Other things people will give up to maintain their telecommute status: a beloved TV show (54%), an extra hour of sleep (48%), a favorite food (40%). While I currently adore my work-from-home status I don’t think there’s a single thing worth sacrificing these luxuries for. TV, food and sleep? Might as well be air, water, and my firstborn.

I’m intrigued by this study because I started working out of my home about a month ago. There is absolutely no question that I am happier (according to this article, “when asked to draw comparisons, telecommuters say their stress levels have dropped 25% on average and their overall happiness increased 28% since working from home. Seventy-three percent even say they eat healthier “). But it took me a little while to figure out how to make the new setup work for me.

As I’ve written here before, my biggest concern about being self-employed (I don’t think you can call what I do telecommuting, since there’s no main office of Rachel Bertsche, Inc. Just me, my computer, and my favorite coffee shop) was the lack of social interaction. My living room is nice and all, but I start talking to inanimate objects after only a few hours of silence. And given the persuasive studies about how significant work BFFs are to happiness, I thought I might be in bad shape. Especially after talking to so many previously self-employed folks who warned me about getting the stir-crazies.

I’ve figured out the whole “be a productive member of society and also change out of your pajamas thing” by setting a schedule. Workout at 8:30. Shower at 9:45. In front of the computer, in public, by 10:30. (Yes, it’s a bit late, but that’s the beauty of reporting to yourself.)

For me, the “in public” part is key. Working in public, specifically in a nearby coffee shop, means I must get dressed like an employed person, rather than donning my alternative homeless person uniform. It also means I get to know the other regulars. They’re like co-workers. Some I talk to, others I smile at. It’s like an office, minus the cubicles.

The above study mentions nothing about how the absence of coworkers affects telecommuters. That potential loneliness (remember the lady who told me that to survive working from home you need “a good anti-depressant”?) seems to me the obvious downside, especially if current research–which predicts 43% of the U.S. workforce will work from home by 2016–is right.

I guess the question is friends vs. freedom. Is it worth the tradeoff?

Thoughts? Would you make the above sacrifices to work from home? And if you’ve worked from home before, did you love it or hate it? What’s more important–the social aspect of the office of the personal freedom of home?

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BFF Breakups: The Receiving End

Whenever I write about friendship breakups, I hear from a number of readers who’ve been on the receiving end. My posts, unintentionally, have largely been about the breakers rather than the breakees. I’ve discussed the ensuing guilt, the need to explain yourself, and even how to handle the post-relationship run-in. But what about the unwitting participants on the other end? The friends who thought everything was fine until their supposed BFF pulled the rug out from under them?

Usually, these women are heartbroken. Confused. Angry. All those feelings you struggled with the last time your boyfriend dumped you? Insert them here.

But even worse than the feeling of betrayal is the effect the breakup has on other potential friendships. Women often admit to being so hurt after a friend breakup that they have trouble trusting any other potential BFFs. Or maybe it’s simply that they’re hesitant to let a new friendship escalate to true BFF status, scared said friends could have an unexpected change of heart. These ladies have experienced just how rough women can be on each other and they want to protect themselves. Understandable.

But I’d say to them the same thing I say to a friend who’s been dumped by a boyfriend and never wants to date again: They won’t all be like that. You need to find a way to get back out there, and be willing to trust people.

One mean girl does not represent the whole lot.

And yet I hear stories of women avoiding close friendships more often than I do women avoiding another shot at romance. It’s as if we are more scarred by friendships gone wrong than romances. My theory is that women go into romantic relationships with the knowledge that it could end–it could even end badly–so they’re ready for it. They come armed with the knowledge that if this one doesn’t work out, they’ll keep truckin’. We don’t embark upon friendships with that same understanding. We assume friendships will be in tact for the long haul, so when we’re wrong we’re not only surprised but we’re pretty beat up. The bruises take longer to heal, and we’re more hesitant to try again.

At least, that’s my theory. So to those of you readers who are holding out on your best friend search because you’re wary of getting too close, hear this: Go forth and prosper. For every bitchy girl who made you feel like an insecure seventh grader, there are dozens of women like you, ready for a new pal.

This I know. I’ve been there.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a friend breakup? Did it scare you away from trusting friends for a while? How’d you get back in the game?

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A First Time For Everything

I’ve never watched According to Jim. Never in my life.

Until last night. The combination of my work procrastination and the fact that the reruns come on after Friends amounted to me on the couch in front of the Jim Belushi comedy. And I’m so glad it did.

The episode was about how Jim’s wife wants to take him to musicals and do other “friend activities” together because her BFF just had a baby. Jim, eager to get out of this new “pal” role—and to never see another Cats—takes on the task of finding his wife a gay best friend. “A guy who will do with her all the things I don’t want to do.”

Of course I loved everything about this concept. First of all, I always appreciate the recognition that your husband can’t necessarily fill the role of BFF. No one person can be everything, and that includes a husband. I adore mine, but if he were my only companion I wouldn’t have had anyone to see Harry Potter with me this weekend, or to keep me company for the Friday Night Lights finale (which I’ve now watched twice, by the way. Perfect). Matt’s not a fan of either (big mistake). Without pals, I would have no one for girl talk or celebrity gossip. And, as this According to Jim episode pointed out, when married women have other friends, everybody wins. She has someone for girl talk or musicals, and the husband gets out of girl talk and musicals. No brainer, right?

I was also quite enamored of the whole gay BFF theme of the show, as I want one. I have plenty of gay friends, but no Will Truman, that’s for sure. An old friend of mine who works in the gay rights advocacy field was in town last night. She has plenty of gay male BFFs and has sung the praises of this oh-so-special relationship.

So, just as Jim did for his wife, shouldn’t Matt be out courting my new BFF as I type? It could only benefit everyone. Just saying.

What do you think about the whole husband-should-be-BFF thing? Should your spouse be your best friend, hands down? Or do other people need to round out the social circle? And, do you have a gay BFF? I’d love to hear your take on that very special friendship.

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The True Test of This Quest

Back in my more friendless days, the true reality of my local situation hit hardest whenever Matt left town. It’s not that I was totally dependent on my husband, but when he would head out of town for a long weekend with his high school buddies, that’s when my weekends suddenly got quiet. No date nights or plans with his coworkers to mask the truth. Weekends consisted of me, TV and some brunches with my Mom.

You’re jealous, I know.

This weekend is one of those weekends. Matt is in Las Vegas for his BFF’s bachelor party and I’m flying solo. The good news is that if nothing else, this is one of those markers that reminds me how far I’ve come. Last night, I hosted my cooking club for our second annual make-your-own-pizza night (get the recipes here). Tonight I’ll be seeing Harry Potter with two of my ex-work BFFs (I’ll be the one in the “Muggle” T-shirt carrying the Ginny Weasley wand). Saturday will be quiet, but there are potential plans with potential BFFs. I’m not worried. And Sunday will be saved for my little bro.

This is the kind of weekend I dreamed of once upon a time. Not too cramped, but not too quiet or lonely either. I’m equally excited for the solo time as I am for all the friend dates. A fantastic blend.

When the tables are turned–when I’m out of town and Matt’s fending for himself–his days are much different. I think. It seems men don’t get the same sense of friendship longing that women do. Or perhaps it takes longer for their loneliness to set in. Not sure. Unfortunately, I’ve never been in their heads.

The point is, I’m excited for the chance to extend invitations and make phone calls to those friends I worked so hard to meet last year. The “my new BFF” question is still lingering, but if I’m looking for someone for a last-minute playdate, at least I have some phone numbers.

That’s more than I could have said last year.

When you have a weekend to yourself, how do you spend it? How much “friend-time” is your ideal?

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Keeping Secrets From Your Bestie

I’m good at keeping secrets. Other people’s, that is. I suck at keeping my own. Every time I try to keep a secret about myself from friends, I end up spilling immediately, before they even have a chance to inquire. The conversation goes something like this:

Me: Hi!

Her: Hey there!

Me: Ok, I can’t hold it in any more, I have to tell you something and I have to tell you now.

I know. Never send me across enemy lines.

Clearly I’m not a very private person. You probably figured that out when I started blogging on this here Internet. People who are private, who would never fill everyone they knew in on all the news of their lives, have always boggled my mind. How do you not share? Don’t you need to get it out? Catharsis!

I don’t have many secrets, personally. My life is boring. But nowadays, whenever I say the words “I have to tell you something but you can’t tell anyone” I get the same response:

“Are you pregnant?”

Oh, how times have changed.

I’m not encouraging you to keep secrets from your BFFs. Trust is a big deal in a friendship, and the main purpose of having a local bestie is having someone to whom you can spill your guts over lunch.

But sometimes things do happen, like pregnancies (and, let’s make this LOUD AND CLEAR: No, I’m not pregnant. Promise!) or new boyfriends. Things you want to hold off on sharing until the time is right, or at least until there will be no judgment. Or, maybe you’re like a friend of mine, who held off on sharing that she applied to grad school until she got accepted, so she wouldn’t have to tell everyone each time she got rejected. (Which was, like, zero times. Smarty pants. But just in case.) I understand the sentiment, but I can’t do it. I’m a sucker for girl talk, what can I say? It’s what we love about me?

My question to you, today, is twofold: 1) What types of secrets have you kept from your best friend? 2) How did you get yourself to hold back and not spill the beans. She’s your best friend, after all! It’s no easy feat.

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The Hard Facts: What Kind of Friend Are You

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“You probably look for different things from your friends: nuturing qualities, wisdom, the ability to make you laugh. So what do they turn to you for? See what style of friendship you offer (you may find that you are a blend of styles), plus pick up some expert advice geared toward your ‘type.'” (“What Kind of Friend Are You?” Real Simple)

I love a good quiz. I was that girl who subscribed to Seventeen, YM, Teen and Sassy simultaneously, and filled out every single quiz, including “Is Your Boyfriend Cheating on You?” when I didn’t even have a boyfriend.

Womens magazines are decidedly short on quizzes these days, don’t you think? I’d really rather have In Style or Women’s Health tell me which jeans I should be wearing, what I should eat for breakfast, and where I should head on my next vacation than have to make these decisions on my own. I want to know what kind of decision-maker I am, who my celebrity soul mate is, and whether I’m a good wife. And I want my magazine to be the one to tell me.

Enter Real Simple‘s “What Type of Friend Are You?” quiz. Just fill it out—quick, easy—and it will tell you all you need to know regarding how you interact with others, why you’re fab, and what you could do better.

Me? I’m The Confidante, according to RS. “The beloved mothering type who everyone turns to when things go wrong.” I’m not so sure. Yes, I love a good tete-a-tete with a pal, but I wouldn’t exactly call myself the nurturer. That said, I do love a good talk-it-out therapy session. I’d rather have dinner with a friend than go dancing. When Callie and Sara asked what I wanted for my bachelorette party, I thought the answer was obvious: “A slumber party!”

Real Simple warns me to “beware of people who take advantage of your generous spirit. … If you’re entrenched in the mothering role, you may not be getting what you need.” I have to be honest, this write-up gives me too much credit. I may love a good heart-to-heart, but I do my fair share of talking about myself. I’ve never once worried that I was the friend to whom everyone vented but no one ever listened. Still, I like this confidante label. I’ll take it.

It’s fun to turn friendship science on yourself every now and then. Take the quiz and then share your “type”! Think it’s accurate?

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Technology Killed the Friending Star

Obviously I love technology. I’m a regular blogger, a lover of Twitter, and my iPhone might as well be surgically attached to my hand I have so much trouble putting it down. I’m not proud of this. I know it annoys my husband, that’s for sure.

I say this all as a preface to this post, to make clear I know I’m partly (largely?) to blame.

Now that that’s out of the way…

I’ve noticed recently that I’m having a friendship problem I never would have encountered when I made friends the first few times around–in high school, summer camp, college. Here goes: Some of my new friendships have become so dependent on email/IM/facebook/text as a means of communication that we’ve lost our face-to-face social skills.

I have a handful of friends with whom I can endlessly banter via one of these techy mediums–our emails are witty! our texts are poetic!–but in person it is simply awkward silence. We’ve developed relationships so dependent on technology and that backlit screen buffer that when we’re just sitting at lunch, face-to-face with nothing to shield us but our turkey sandwiches, we don’t know what to say. Screens have backspace buttons and buy you time. Conversation gives you one shot to say the right thing, and if you don’t, there’s no way to delete it. You’re stuck.

What’s frustrating is that these slightly tension-filled get-togethers are so hard to understand. Everything is perfect online, why can’t we be the same in person? What’s holding us back? It feels like an elephant at the lunch table.

I was at such a meal last week, and I almost thought aloud, “Weird that we suddenly have nothing to say.” It seemed one of those unnecessary verbal gaffes that could only make an awkward moment moreso. Remarkably, I contained myself.

I love emailing. Writing is my medium, so I really do like getting to know someone over a letter–even if it’s an electronic one. But I don’t think that my being a journalist is what’s causing the problem. I think we’re all just adjusting to the decreasing emphasis put on face-to-face interaction, eye contact, and personal attention.

So, please share, is it just me? Or have you found yourself stuck at a lunch, wishing you could text your friend-date from across table, just to break the ice?

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